Today, December 4 2007, I gave a presentation at EuroSTAR on “Why I Am Not (Yet) Certified“. James Bach was originally slated to give a different presentation with the same title, but I got the nod due to the untimely illness of James’ wife Lenore, which caused him to cancel his fall schedule (she’s much better now).
Stuart Reid, the chair of the conference, strongly supports the notion of certifications in their current forms. I disagree with that, but I have considerable respect for people who are willing to provide a platform for opposing views, and I therefore thank him for providing the opportunity to speak. I think the controversy opens up the discussion, and thereby strengthens the conference and the craft of testing.
As I said as I finished the presentation, I felt a little like Martin Luther nailing 42 PowerPoint slides to the screen. The talk was generally well received, but there were several conversations that I found rather sobering.
At least two people to whom I spoke–one a former ISEB instructor–told me that they had wanted to effect change in the multiple choice Foundation exams, but their experience was that that couldn’t happen unless the ISEB/ISTQB Syllabus were to change–and changing that proved an insurmountable obstacle for them.
Almost everyone who approached me afterwards said that they were glad that I had said the things that they had been thinking privately for several years. They tended to be enthusiastic but they also tended to check to see whether they were among friends before they spoke freely. The latter is a tendency we need to break. As it was, it felt like revolution and insurrection were in the air–but nobody was quite brave enough to speak up. I encourage people to talk about this stuff, out loud and in public. Open criticism of things that are damaging to the craft is a form of self-certification in my community.
The complacence and chill were disturbing, but once a group of people were together, the complaints started to flow. Many had taken the ISEB/ISTQB certifications. All but one found little to no value in it. They complained about the triviality and the one-and-only-one-answer nature of the Foundation Level exam. Saddest of all, they noted that in Britain and in several countries on the continent, almost all businesses that are hiring testers require applicants for entry-level jobs to have the ISEB/ISTQB certification. I’m pretty certain that this will have several nasty effects. First, it is likely to discourage people from entering the testing field the way many of our best testers have done–by accident and opportunity. In turn, this will make the profession more insular and less diverse. In turn, this will prevent new ideas from reaching the craft. This is very bad.
We’re already learning this business slowly enough. If you attend conferences–especially the major commercial ones–you’ll hear near endless repetition of the same themes: heavyweight planning and estimation for a task that should be nimble, rapid, and responsive; bloated approaches to test documentation and artifacts; relentless focus on confirmation, verification, and validation, and very little talk of investigation, exploration, and discovery. It’s narcotic–the conferences seem addicted to these talks, and they make the craft sleepy. If we’re going to repeat anything, let’s repeat Einstein’s notion that the we can’t solve problems by using the same level of thinking that we used when we created them.